Throughout the novel, instances of consumed and mistaken identity contribute to a growing experience of isolation on the part of both the reader and narrator. Bateman is repeatedly mistaken for other people; when he is out with his friends it is not uncommon for someone to greet him as someone else and not be corrected. These constant moments of mistaken identity suggest that, within the world of the novel, it isn’t really important who somebody is because the characters’ value and knowledge of one another is entirely superficial. In a community where no one has any real relationships, no one truly to truly know or connect with, Bateman ends up isolated inside his mind, where he eventually begins to crumble and go insane. In fact, Ellis borrows the idea that isolation is inherent in a capitalist society from the communist thinker Karl Marx, and creates for his narrator and reader an experience of isolation in a hyper-capitalist community.
Ellis amplifies this notion for the reader by surrounding Bateman with a rotating group of fellow Wall Street bankers (who almost always refer to one another by last name) and offering little-to-no introduction for new minor characters. While this can lead to immense confusion, it also sets up a world in which people are interchangeable, not worth getting to know, and exist more as objects than humans. With no other characters to get to know, the reader is left alone and isolated with Bateman and his (increasingly psychotic) mind. Ironically, the one person who seems to truly care for and be interested in Bateman is his secretary, Jean (“who is in love with me”). For the majority of the novel Bateman treats her rudely, telling her what she should be wearing and how to behave and ordering her around coldly. Despite this, Jean has an affection for Bateman that is evident nowhere else in the novel, and she often attempts to better get to know him. But just when it seems as if the two may be nearing a closer and intimate connection, Bateman brushes off her affection and friendship. Unwilling (or unable) to open up to her (to engage with and reveal his true self and identity) Bateman recedes into his isolation.
This connection between mistaken identity and isolation comes to a head surrounding the murder of Paul Owen. After killing Owen, Bateman buys a ticket to London in Owen’s name and then sets up Owen’s New York apartment to make it look as if Owen has left town. When a private investigator looking into the disappearance comes to speak with Bateman, he mentions this and says that Owen has been possibly sighted in London. Knowing that Owen is dead, Bateman assumes that these witnesses were mistaken. But when Bateman later approaches his lawyer regarding a voicemail in which he confessed to the murder, his lawyer tells him that he “had dinner… with Paul Owen… twice… in London… just ten days ago.” Suddenly a number of questions arise: Is Paul Owen alive or dead? Did Bateman simply imagine or fantasize about killing him? Did Bateman kill someone else he only thought was Owen? But Ellis (or Bateman) never gives the reader more knowledge, and it’s never even clear if it is Ellis or Bateman who is leaving the questions unresolved. And so, suddenly, the reader who has been in Bateman’s head through his first-person narration is thrust out of Bateman’s head, leaving Bateman alone and isolated with the truth of what he has done, alone with his own questions, guilt, or confusion.
The novel suggests that Bateman is the ultimate result of a society where identity is tied solely to material worth, and so he is unable to connect with others and recedes into his own mind – unable even to recognize or understand other people, and in the end is driven so far into his own mind as to be inaccessible even to the reader.
Identity and Isolation ThemeTracker
Identity and Isolation Quotes in American Psycho
“I’m resourceful,” Price is saying, “I’m creative, I’m young, unscrupulous, highly motivated, highly skilled. In essence what I’m saying is that society cannot afford to lose me. I’m an asset.”
“Don’t wear that outfit again,” I say, looking her over quickly… “do not wear that outfit again. Wear a dress. A skirt or something… You’re prettier than that… And high heels,” I mention. “I like high heels.”
She shakes her head good-naturedly as she exits…
Idly, I wonder if Evelyn would ever sleep with another woman if I brought her over to the brownstone… If they’d let me direct, tell them what to do, position them under hot halogen lamps… But what if I forced her at gunpoint? Threatened to cut them both up, maybe, if they didn’t comply?
“My life is a living hell,” I mention off the cuff, while casually moving leeks around on my plate, which by the way is a porcelain triangle. “And there are many more people I, uh, want to… want to, well, I guess murder.” I say emphasizing this last word, staring straight into Armstrong’s face.
…I’m sweaty and a pounding migraine thumps dull in my head and I’m experiencing a major-league anxiety attack, searching my pockets for Valium, Xanax, a leftover Halcion, anything… I’ve forgotten who I had lunch with earlier, and even more important, where.
My priorities before Christmas include the following: (1) to get an eight o’clock reservation on a Friday night at Dorsia with Courtney, (2) to get myself invited to the Trump Christmas Party aboard their yacht, (3) to find out as much as humanly possible about Paul Owen’s mysterious Fisher account, (4) to saw a hardbody’s head off and Federal Express it to Robin Barker – the dumb bastard – over at Solomon Brothers and (5) to apologize to Evelyn without making it look like an apology.
“Stop it. Come on, I want this,” I say and then in a last, desperate attempt I smile flirtatiously, kissing her lightly on the lips, and add, “Mrs. Bateman?”
I think about other things while she describes her recent past: air, water, sky, time, a moment, a point somewhere when I wanted to show her everything beautiful in the world. I have no patience for revelations, for new beginnings, for events that take place beyond the realm of my immediate vision.
And though it has been in no way a romantic evening, she embraces me and this time emanates a warmth I’m not familiar with. I am so used to imagining everything happening the way it occurs in movies, visualizing things falling somehow into the shape of events on a screen, that I almost hear the swelling of an orchestra, can almost hallucinate the camera panning low around us, fireworks bursting in slow motion overhead, the seventy-millimeter image of her lips parting and the subsequent murmur of “I want you” in Dolby sound.
It’s an isolation ward that serves only to expose my own severely impaired capacity to feel. I am at its center, out of season, and no one ever asks me for any identification. I suddenly imagine Evelyn’s skeleton, twisted and crumbling, and this fills me with glee.
…while I grind the bone and fat and flesh into patties, and though it does sporadically penetrate how unacceptable some of what I’m doing actually is, I just remind myself that this thing, this girl, this meat, is nothing, is shit, and along with a Xanax (which I’m now taking half-hourly) this thought momentarily calms me and then I’m humming…
“Please do not sit in the same row in court with Janet. When I look over toward you there she sits contemplating me with her mad eyes like a deranged seagull studying a clam… I can feel her spreading hot sauce on me already…”
…it did not occur to me, ever, that people were good or that a man was capable of change or that the world can be a better place through one’s taking pleasure in a feeling or a look or a gesture, of receiving another person’s love or kindness. Nothing was affirmative, the term “generosity of spirit” applied to nothing, was a cliché, was some kind of bad joke. Sex is mathematics. Individuality no longer an issue. What does intelligence signify? Define reason?... Evil is its only purpose. God is not alive. Love cannot be trusted. Surface, surface, surface was all that anyone found meaning in.. this was civilization as I saw it, colossal and jagged…
…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.
Jeannette should be okay – she has her whole life in front of her (that is, if she doesn’t run into me). Besides, this girl’s favorite movie is Pretty in Pink and she thinks Sting is cool, so what is happening to her is, like, not totally undeserved and one shouldn’t feel bad for her. This is no time for the innocent.
“Davis,” he sighs, as if patiently trying to explain something to a child, “I am not one to bad-mouth anyone. Your joke was amusing, but come on, man, you had one fatal flaw: Bateman’s such a bloody ass-kisser, such a brown-nosing goody-goody, that I couldn’t fully appreciate it…. Oh good god, man. Why else would Evelyn Richards dump him? You know, really. He could barely pick up an escort girl, let alone… what was it you said he did to her?”
While walking back to the highway, I stop, choke back a sob, my throat tightens. “I just want to…” Facing the skyline, through all the baby talk, I murmur, “keep the game going.” As I stand, frozen in my position, an old woman emerges behind a Threepenny Opera poster at a deserted bus stop and she’s homeless and begging, hobbling over, her face covered with sores that look like bugs, holding out a shaking red hand. “Oh will you please go away?” I sigh. She tells me to get a haircut.
“Well, though I know I should have done that instead of not doing it, I’m twenty-seven for Christ sakes and this is, uh, how life presents itself in a bar or in a club in New York, maybe anywhere, at the end of the century and how people, you know, me, behave, and this is what being Patrick means to me, I guess, so, well, yup, uh…” and this is followed by a sigh, then a slight shrug and another sigh, and above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes in Harry’s is a sign and on the sign in letters that match the drapes’ color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.